Tuesday, January 16, 2007

African Blood, Chinese Oil

[posted by Callimachus]

Human Rights Watch is the kind of international scold that works hard to give no one a break.

Its 2007 annual report is an equal opportunity finger-wagger, even if it sometimes lacks a sense of proportion, as it does when it devotes more text to, say, the "problem" of U.S. drug addicts' being denied their "right" to free needles than it does to vicious unpunished "honor killings" of women and girls in the Palestinian territories.

China, which claims an increasing role in world affairs and will host the 2008 summer Olympic Games, comes in for special treatment. "Human rights conditions in China deteriorated significantly in 2006," the report notes.

It also notes conditions are not expected to get better by the time of the Olympics. In fact, the Olympics have become a human rights issue, as Beijing drives as many as 300,000 people from their homes to clear neighborhoods for Olympic venues or even for beautification projects.

Among the areas in which Beijing is most actively repressing basic freedoms, two stand out. One is as old as Genesis, the other is as new as Silicon Valley.

China has an estimated 20.8 million bloggers among its 123 million Internet users. As in other nations, the Internet has become a forum for political debate as well as personal expression. And, in common with other authoritarian leaders, China's rulers don't like it.

The "Great Firewall of China" restricts Internet access, and the government continues to prosecute those who tunnel under it.

During the first half of 2006, Chinese officials shut down more than 700 online forums and ordered eight search engines to filter 'subversive and sensitive content' based on 10,000 key words.

Shamefully, U.S. corporations such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! have admitted cooperating in this in one degree or another. Yahoo!'s complicity has been most reprehensible: According to HRW it "released the identity of private users to Chinese authorities, contributing to four critics' lengthy prison sentences."

As for religion, it only is allowed in China under state control. The government monitors preachers, imams and religious publications. Any church that fails to register with the state is instantly under ban and subject to criminal sanctions. HRW estimates as many as 1,958 Protestants were rounded up in the course of a year for attending unapproved Bible studies.

All this is more than a domestic problem, as China begins to flex its international muscle. It was elected last year to the newly formed U.N. Human Rights Council. As the HRW report notes, "China continues to work closely with the 'like minded' group of countries, which includes Iran and Zimbabwe, to roll back important human rights protections."

China's "burgeoning economy and thirst for natural resources have led it to play a more assertive international role," HRW notes, "but it has studiously avoided using that influence to promote human rights." The report concludes that, in the wider world, "China’s position on human rights ranges from indifference to hostility."

Wads of Chinese money turn up in the pockets of the world's most unsavory governments.

"It is hard to believe that the Chinese government wants to be known as the supporter of tyrants, the exploiter of the impoverished," the report notes, rather naively.

The authors find a more realistic tone further up the page:

Because China purchases a reported two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports and is the largest investor in its oil industry, Sudan’s economy is booming, emboldening Khartoum to pursue its slaughter in Darfur and leaving it flush with funds to purchase arms (sometimes Chinese) for the fighting.

Blood for oil. In some places, it's more than just a hollow oppositional slogan. Of course, those also are the places you're least likely to see the slogan -- or any other banner of dissent.

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